Boston Sports Franchises: Boston Celtics
April 6, 2011 Leave a comment
Retired Numbers: #1 Walter Brown, #2 Red Auerbach, #3 Dennis Johnson, #6 Bill Russell, #10 Jo Jo White, #14 Bob Cousy, #15 Tom Heinsohn, #16 Tom Sanders, #17 John Havlicek, #18 Dave Cowens, #19 Don Nelson, #21 Bill Sharman, #22 Ed Macauley, #23 Frank Ramsey, #24 Sam Jones, #25 K.C. Jones, #32 Kevin McHale, #33 Larry Bird, #35 Reggie Lewis
Rivals: Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons
The Boston Celtics were formed in 1946 as a team in the Basketball Association of America, and became part of the NBA after the merger between the BAA and NBL in 1949. In 1950, the Celtics became the first franchise in the league to draft an African American player, signing Chuck Cooper. Struggling in their early years, the Celtics hired head coach Red Auerbach in 1950. In the early days of his tenure in Boston, Auerbach had no assistants, and ran all practices, did all of the scouting—both of opposing teams and college draft prospects—and scheduled all the road trips. It was also during the early years of Red’s coaching tenure that the Celtics acquired some of their first great players, in Bob Cousy, and rookies Tommy Heinsohn and Bill Russell. With a lineup that gelled almost immediately with Auerbach at the helm, the Celtics advanced to the NBA Finals in 1957 and defeated the St. Louis Hawks in seven games enroute to the first of their 17 NBA Championships. In the following year, the Celtics met the Hawks yet again in the Finals, this time falling to St. Louis in a disappointing six game series.
The franchise avenged their disappointing 1958 Finals loss in 1959, with a lineup that had Cousy at the point, Heinsohn at forward, and Russell at center. In this season, the Celtics won the NBA Finals, sweeping the Lakers. Still coached by Auerbach, the Celtics won seven more consecutive championships, a record eight in a row. During that time, the Celtics met the Lakers in the Finals five times, beginning an intense and storied rivalry that has spanned generations. In 1964, Auerbach fashioned the Celtics into the first team to have an all African American starting lineup. The Boston Celtics of the mid-1950-60s are widely considered as one of the most dominant teams of all time.
Auerbach retired as coach after the 1965-66 season and Russell took the helm as player-coach which many suspect was Auerbach’s ploy to keep Russell interested. With this appointment, Russell became the first black coach in the NBA. However, it was during this year that the Celtics’ historic string of titles was broken, as they fell to the 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The veteran team managed to squeak out two more championships in 1968 and 1969, defeating the Lakers both times, but after Russell’s retirement in 1969, the dominant Celtics’ dynasty was effectively ended. However, the streak of 8 consecutive NBA championships is the longest streak of consecutive titles in U.S. professional sports history.
The 1970 season was a rebuilding year, as the team saw their first losing season since the 1949-50 season. In the seasons after that, however, key acquisitions of players such as Dave Cowens, Paul Silas, and Jo Jo White, Boston soon returned to their previous dominance. After losing in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1972 and 1973, the team came back with a vengeance, ousting the Bucks in seven games in 1974 for their 12th NBA Championship.
After winning another championship in After a disappointing 32-50 finish in the 1977-78 season, the Celtics owned two of the top eight picks in the 1978 NBA Draft. Since the team had two selections available, GM Auerbach opted to take a gamble with junior Larry Bird of Indiana State, knowing that Bird would elect to remain in college for his senior year. The Celtics retained his rights for one year—a rule that would later change—and Auerbach believed that Bird’s potential would make it worth the wait. Bird signed soon after leading Indiana State to the NCAA Championship game, where they fell to a Magic Johnson-led Michigan State squad.
Bird debuted for the Celtics during the 1979-80 season, and led the Celtics to a 32 game improvement, which at the time was the best single-season turnaround in NBA history. Boston fell to the 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals in the postseason. After that season, due to Auerbach stockpiling draft picks, the Celtics had the 1st and 13th picks in the 1980, and traded picks to get center Robert Parish while also drafting University of Minnesota power forward Kevin McHale. With these three future Hall of Famers on the team, henceforth known as the first “Big 3,” the Celtics had a core in place to become a dominant team again in the NBA.
Despite losing center Dave Cowens to retirement in training camp, the Celtics went 62-20 under head coach Bill Fitch in 1980-81. In an exciting come-from-behind Eastern Conference Finals, which went to a deciding 1 point Game 7, Boston ousted the 76ers yet again. The Celtics went on to capture the 1980 NBA Championship over the Houston Rockets, just two years after Bird had been drafted. The following year, the Celtics tried once again to come back from a 3-1 deficit against the Sixers in the rematch but lost Game 7 at the Boston Garden.
In 1983-84, the Celtics would go 62-20 and finally get back to the Finals after a three year hiatus. In the Finals, the Celtics came back from a 2-1 deficit to defeat the Lakers, winning a 15th championship for the franchise. Bird renewed his college rivalry with Magic Johnson during this series. In 1985, the Lakers and Celtics met again, but this time, the Lakers took the championship. This marked the first time the Lakers had defeated the Celtics for a championship, as well as the only time that the Celtics lost a championship at the Boston Garden.
In 1985-86, the Celtics fielded one of the best teams in NBA history, winning 67 games and going 40-1 at the Garden. Bird won his third consecutive MVP award, as the franchise won its 16th championship and last of the century, defeating the Rockets in six games.
At the end of 1985-86, the Celtics owned not only the best team in basketball, but also the second pick in the 1986 NBA Draft, which they used to acquire Len Bias out of Maryland. The hope was that his presence would ensure that the franchise would remain a powerhouse even after the retirement of the “Big 3” in Bird, Parish, and McHale. Unfortunately, Bias died 48 hours after he was drafted, due to a cocaine overdose. The Celtics pressed on, remaining competitive in the 1986-87 season before falling to the Lakers in a six game NBA Finals. It would be 22 years until they reached the Finals again.
The Original Big Three era came to an end in 1994, after Parish signed with the Hornets, McHale retired in 1993, and Bird’s retirement in 1992.
The rest of the 1990’s were times of management turmoil, and key trades, and a major upheaval of the starting lineup. As a result of numerous trades, the Celtics had three picks in the 2001 NBA Draft, using them on Joe Johnson, Joe Forte, and Kendrick Brown. Only Johnson managed to succeed in the NBA. Entering the 2001-02 season with low expectations, the franchise made it to the postseason, winning a hard-fought 5-game series with the 76ers in the first round, and ousting the heavily favored Pistons in another five games. In their first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals since 1988, the Celtics jumped out to a 2-1 series lead over the Nets, but would lose the next three games to fall in six games.
In the summer of 2007, GM Danny Ainge made a series of moves that returned the Celtics to prominence, including the acquisition of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Glen “Big Baby” Davis. These moves, in addition to veteran Celtic Paul Pierce, created the next “Big 3” in Celtics history, a group of guys who would revitalize the team and lead them back to glory. The Celtics completed the largest single-season turnaround in NBA history in 2008, defeating the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, and overpowering longtime rival Lakers in the two teams’ 11th NBA Finals meeting.
The Celtics lost in the second round to the Magic in the 2009 playoffs, but overcame a tough road in the 2010 playoffs, beating the Heat and Magic enroute to yet another NBA Finals meeting between Boston and L.A. The Lakers overpowered Boston, who saw starting center Kendrick Perkins suffer a knee injury early in Game 6, and lost Game 6 and blew a 13-point lead to lose Game 7 as well.
As the playoffs are fast approaching, the race in the East is still hotter than ever. The Celtics have made some attention-grabbing trades, including a trade with the Thunder in which Boston gave up Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City. Stay tuned tomorrow as we discuss the current state of the franchise!